How Colleges’ Carnegie Classifications Have Changed Over Time

NOTE: This post was updated on February 2, 2022 to reflect substantial changes between the initial and final Carnegie data releases.

Every three years, Indiana University’s Center on Postsecondary Research has updated Carnegie classifications–a key measure of prestige for some colleges that helps define peer groups. Much of the higher education community looks closely at these lists, and doesn’t hesitate to share their opinions about whether they are correctly classified.

The 2021 version includes many different types of classifications based on different institutional characteristics. But the basic classification (based on size, degrees awarded, and research intensity) always garners the most attention from the higher education community. I took a look at the 2018 update three years ago, and this post provides an updated analysis of the 2021 classifications.

The item that always gets the most attention in the Carnegie classifications is Research 1 (research universities: very high activity) status, as this is based on research metrics and is a key indicator of prestige. The R1 line has continued to grow, moving from 96 universities in 2005 to 146 in 2021. Notably, nine additional universities were added to the R1 list between the initial data release in December 2021 and the final release in January 2022. This includes three universities that were initially moved down to R2 and successfully managed to get moved back through either correcting data errors or appealing their classification.


At the two-year level, there are competing trends of institutional consolidations in the for-profit sector and more community colleges offering bachelor’s degree programs. The number of baccalaureate/associate colleges declined substantially in 2021 (going from 269 in 2018 to 202 in 2021), but this is mainly driven by reclassifications between the initial and final data releases (going from 250 to 202).

2021: 202

2018: 269

2015: 248

2010: 182

2005: 144

IPEDS counts these institutions as four-year universities, but the Carnegie classification (basic codes 14 and 23) is a better way to flag them as two-year colleges.

Going forward, Carnegie classifications will continue to be updated every three years in order to keep up with a rapidly-changing higher education environment. It remains to be seen who will host the classifications following a falling-out with Albion College, and I’m very much intrigued by the high number of reclassifications this time around. It’s never dull in higher ed data land!

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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